Afternoon sun warms the fields, lifting the scent of damp furrowed earth and wild lilacs into passing cars. Here in Indiana’s Elkhart and La Grange counties (110 miles east of Chicago), land and customs are nearly inseparable. Even the spirit of quilts that warm beds all winter emerges from the ground in spring when blooms appear in 19 quilt gardens with names like Flying Swallows and Pomegranate Window.
While some avid gardener-tourists vow to see all of the region’s planted patchwork, most travelers take a more meandering path, stretching a day trip into a weekend of visiting family-owned shops, art galleries and restaurants. In Goshen, a striped awning shades the 104-year-old Olympia Candy Kitchen. As he has for 47 years, Kirby Whitehead stirs a copper kettle of candy filling. He rolls the concoction out on a marble table and forms it into balls. Dabbing his brow with an apron corner, he plops into a rocker by the window. "Too hot to dip those in chocolate today. Time to take a ride along a country road."
For more information: Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 262-8161; amishcountry.org
The Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart showcases 19th- and 20th-century American works, including 45 Norman Rockwell-signed lithographs and Overbeck sisters’ pottery (midwestmuseum.us).
Light lunches of turkey-cheddar panini and salads with pecans and blue cheese satisfy diners at cafe-gift shop B on the River (b-ontheriver.com).
Paths wind through woodlands, bonsai displays and sculpture-studded formal gardens at Wellfield Botanic Gardens (wellfieldgardens.org).
Mod Closet sells 1950–70s clothing and bangles (modcloset.com).
Nine miles away, in tiny Bristol, wind down over a glass of regional grape or orchard-fruit wines at Fruit Hills Winery (fruithillswinery.com).
Back in Elkhart, a veal chop seasoned with a 10-pepper blend and smothered in wine, mushrooms and sweet cherry peppers stars at 523 Tap and Grill (523tapandgrill.com).
In all its former Vaudeville glory, the 1924 Lerner Theatre anchors downtown Elkhart’s restored arts and entertainment district and shows plays, concerts and movies (thelerner.com).
Spacious rooms and a hot breakfast buffet await at Staybridge Suites (staybridge.com/elkhartnorth).
Start the day with fresh cinnamon-caramel doughnuts at Rise ’N Roll in Middlebury (risenrollbakery.com).
In Goshen, the Old Bag Factory houses antiques shops, cafes and studio-galleries featuring metalwork, sculptures and furniture (oldbagfactory.com).
Kelly Jae's Cafe blends Asian flavors with the Spanish tapas concept; try the crab cakes with tomato-caper remoulade (kellyjaescafe.com).
For dessert, treat yourself to hand-dipped chocolates from Olympia Candy Kitchen (olympiacandykitchen.com).
The Shipshewana Flea Market (every Tuesday and Wednesday, May through October) looks like a 100-acre tent city populated by 900 vendors selling toys, eyelgasses, potted plants, tools and food (tradingplaceamerica.com).
Shipshewana’s Menno-Hof center teaches visitors about Amish and Mennonite life (mennohof.org).
Das Dutchman Essenhaus delivers a carb-reload with beef and noodles over mashed potatoes, plus custard pie for dessert (essenhaus.com).
Guests at McKenzie House Bed and Breakfast enjoy a pool, gardens, a movie-rec room, gourmet breakfast and garden views (mckenziehousebnb.com).